If there’s anything that would annoy smaller clubs in the world more than their stature itself, then it’s the situation when big clubs come hunting for their better players when they seem like big fishes in a small pond. It’s obvious that big clubs certainly love to lay their hands on players from smaller clubs, but can often prove to be bait.
And the latest small-club talent to have been clamoured by bigger clubs in the Premier League is Burnley defender Michael Keane. His former club- Manchester United are said to be following his trail for sometime now, along with the likes of Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool, Manchester City and Everton. It isn’t too big a surprise to see the 24-year-old from Stockport garner so much attention, keeping his performances in hindsight, but Burnley have a decision to make on their hands.
Keane’s deal at Turf Moor runs out as early as next summer and with interest in him as high as it has ever been, they would make a hefty sum on offloading him this summer. But Keane has been a vital cog in Sean Dyche’s wheel over the past two seasons and his performances have been crucial in bringing the Clarets back up to the Premier League and also in keeping there for at least another season. Despite that, there is little doubt that Keane is likely to be poached away by a bigger club and it’s a case of asking ‘when’ rather than ‘if’. Burnley would obviously be aware of interest and with just a single year more remaining on his current contract, they would love to churn out every bit of his value this summer. And with a 30 million price tag placed on the Englishman, the biggest question that arises is whether Michael Keane is really that amount? Or is he another monotonous case of over-rating and over-paying for English players?
As things stand, there is no scarcity whatsoever for centre-backs that are capable for playing for the big six in the England. Apart from Keane, there are defenders like Middlesbrough’s Ben Gibson and Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk, who may well be poached on by the bigger clubs this summer. Their presence is likely to make sure that clubs have other players to look at, if Burnley end up playing hardball over the imminent sale of Keane. And one can certainly expect the Clarets to up their asking price for the Englishman, once interest starts growing.
And the clubs would be reluctant to pay 30 million for a player who will enter the last year of his contract next season and above all, has been a flop at a big club already. People have compared Keane’s situation to that of Paul Pogba and how he came back to Manchester United as a ‘prodigal son’ when he sealed a summer move to Old Trafford last summer, but the stipulations are the all more different. The Frenchman was under contract at Turin till 2019 and was probably at the peak of his form and if not for that, clubs would not have paid the record fee for him. Keane is entering the last year of his contract and is also at the peak of his form, but it will be a case of comparing penne with macaroni. They may look same, but will turn out to be different, if looked closely.
Speaking of players who have or had one year remaining on their contract, Henrikh Mkhitaryan joined United when he was entering the last year of his Borussia Dortmund deal. The Armenian had become one of their most important players, after Jurgen Klopp had paved way for Mainz’s Thomas Tuchel and was wanted by the likes of Arsenal too, as he had refused to sign a new deal at the Signal Iduna Park. The £26.3m that Mourinho shelled out on him could have been well more, if not Dortmund’s willingness to let him leave, if he had another year left or if United hadn’t bargained. One certainly can come up with the argument of the different positions that Keane and Mkhitaryan play on, but Mats Hummels’ case would be enough to prove that English players certainly are over-valued, no matter how good they are.
Much like the Armenian midfielder, Hummels was about to enter the conclusive year of his contract before heading off to the Allianz Arena. Along with the likes of Mkhitaryan, Ilkay Gundogan and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, the Germany international was an indispensable players at BVB. If not that, Hummels was and still is one of the best defenders in the world. He went for a fee in the region of £30 million, which seems quite a snatch, if you view it from an English perspective.
It’d sound quite obvious to even the most general of footballing audiences that Keane isn’t among the best defenders in the world, despite taking into account how inspirational he has been for Sean Dyche’s men from Turf Moor. But, is he as complete a defender as Mats Hummels, or say Toby Alderweireld? He isn’t. He’s got a passing percentage of 72 and that certainly needs a bump, if you play for a big club, especially because big teams enjoy more of possession in games. This isn’t an attempt to undermine a quality defender, but a way of saying that £30 million isn’t something that he deserves.
John Stones was poached on by Manchester City at a time when he was 21 and commanded a £50 million fee. Things haven’t worked out for him too well during his first season, but he is an almost complete defender, who just needs to get rid of his lapses in concentration. He had a contract that lasted till 2019 and Everton couldn’t have asked more out of a club that has a manager who loves ball playing defenders to the core- Pep Guardiola.
Keane is 24, not complete and not a world-class centre-back, who’s fast approaching the end of his contract. It would be unnecessary, if he went for a £20 million fee, but that may not happen. It’s an English player we’re talking about and an English player who has attracted the attention of almost all the top English clubs. And that’s probably why this act of apparent over-valuing and inevitable overpaying will happen.
But, it’s time we accept the new, money-minded ways in which modern-day football works.